U of W reverses course on anti-mask rally student suspension

Student faced suspension for entire academic year


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A University of Winnipeg education student suspended from the faculty for attending an anti-mask rally while on a work placement has been reinstated on appeal.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 01/09/2021 (635 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A University of Winnipeg education student suspended from the faculty for attending an anti-mask rally while on a work placement has been reinstated on appeal.

The reversal comes following stated support from the practicum school’s principal and vice-principal and representation by the Alberta-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.

The student, whose name is being kept private by both sides, didn’t have the chance to address the university’s concerns, there was no notice of a hearing and she wasn’t provided sufficient reasons for the initial decision to bar her for the 2021-22 academic year, lawyer Allison Pejovic said.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files Thousands attend an anti-mask rally at the Forks on April 25, 2021.

“The University of Winnipeg’s response to her actions was disproportionate and implemented in an unfair and unreasonable manner,” Pejovic said in an email Tuesday to the Free Press.

According to her defence, the student was one of the hundreds of people on the grounds of The Forks on April 25, as protesters rallied against lockdowns and public health restrictions amidst Manitoba’s third wave of COVID-19.

The woman, who was completing her fourth-year practicum in a local school, posted about her attendance on Instagram.

Three days later, she received an email from a staff member, saying: “If true, you have put our school’s staff and students at risk, and their families as well.”

The student emailed back, admitting she’d been at The Forks, and offered not to re-enter the school for her final two days of practicum, which she worked online.

“I would also like to add that I apologize for any stress this has caused you, the staff, students, and their families,” the student wrote in an April 29 email to school staff.

In the days between the anti-mask rally and the switch to online teaching, the student “was diligent with her mask use and her social distancing practices,” and the school didn’t anticipate significant risk occurred, according to an email from staff to parents of the impacted class.

On April 30, the student was told by phone the faculty had placed her under review.

A letter dated June 9 from U of W education dean Laurie-Ann Hellsten informed the student she’d been suspended for the 2021-22 academic year; a committee would meet in May 2022 to decide whether she’d be allowed to continue the program.

Less than a week later, the practicum school’s principal contacted Hellsten and asked that the faculty allow the student to continue her final year of classes.

“I had expected that the education faculty would engage in a conversation with (the student) with the intent of having her recognize that similar actions in the future might result in significant career implications,” the principal wrote. “I feel in this circumstance she could be afforded some grace.”

Less than two weeks later, the vice-principal and a teacher offered a similar letter of support.

On Aug. 28, the institution reinstated the student into the education program for September.

On Tuesday, the University of Winnipeg would not provide comment; it’s unable to speak about individual students, a spokesperson said.

“A university’s role is not to dictate the personal lives and choices of students,” Pejovic said. “We are pleased that the University of Winnipeg reversed course.”


Gabrielle Piché

Gabrielle Piché

Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.

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